Stone spheres of Costa Rica
The stone spheres (or stone balls) of Costa Rica are an assortment of over three hundred petrospheres in Costa Rica, located on the Diquís Delta and on Isla del Caño. Locally, they are known as Las Bolas. The spheres are commonly attributed to the extinct Diquís culture and are sometimes referred to as the Diquís Spheres. They are the best-known stone sculptures of the Isthmo-Colombian area.
The spheres range in size from a few centimetres to over 2 metres (6.6 ft) in diameter, and weigh up to 15 tons. Most are sculpted from gabbro, the coarse-grained equivalent of basalt. There are a dozen or so made from shell-rich limestone, and another dozen made from a sandstone.
The stones are believed to have been carved between 200 BCE and 1500 CE. However the only method available for dating the carved stones is stratigraphy, and most stones are no longer in their original locations. The culture of the people who made them disappeared after the Spanish conquest.
Spheres have been found with pottery from the Aguas Buenas culture (dating 200 BCE – 600 CE) and also they have been discovered with Buenos Aires Polychrome type sculpture (dating 1000 – CE 1500). They have been uncovered in a number of locations, including the Isla del Caño, and over 300 kilometres (190 mi) north of the Diquís Delta in Papagayo on the Nicoya Peninsula.
The spheres were discovered in the 1930s as the United Fruit Company was clearing the jungle for banana plantations. Workmen pushed them aside with bulldozers and heavy equipment, damaging some spheres. Additionally, inspired by stories of hidden gold workmen began to drill holes into the spheres and blow them open with sticks of dynamite. Several of the spheres were destroyed before authorities intervened. Some of the dynamited spheres have been reassembled and are currently on display at the National Museum of Costa Rica in San José.
The first scientific investigation of the spheres was undertaken shortly after their discovery by Doris Stone, a daughter of a United Fruit Co. executive. These were published in 1943 in American Antiquity, attracting the attention of Samuel Kirkland Lothrop of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. In 1948, he and his wife attempted to excavate an unrelated archaeological site in the northern region of Costa Rica. The government had just disbanded its professional army, and the resulting civil unrest threatened the security of Lothrop's team. In San José he met Doris Stone, who directed the group toward the Diquís Delta region in the southwest ("Valle de Diquís" refers to the valley of the lower Río Grande de Térraba, including the Osa Canton towns of Puerto Cortés, Palmar Norte, and Sierpe) and provided them with valuable dig sites and personal contacts. Lothrop's findings were published in Archaeology of the Diquís Delta, Costa Rica 1963.
Numerous myths surround the stones, such as they came from Atlantis, or that they were made as such by nature. Some local legends state that the native inhabitants had access to a potion able to soften the rock. Research led by Joseph Davidovits of the Geopolymer Institute in France has been offered in support of this hypothesis, but it is not supported by geological or archaeological evidence. (No one has been able to demonstrate that gabbro, the material from which most of the balls are sculpted, can be worked this way.)
In the cosmogony of the Bribri, which is shared by the Cabecares and other American ancestral groups, the stone spheres are “Tara’s cannon balls”. Tara or Tlatchque, the god of thunder, used a giant blowpipe to shoot the balls at the Serkes, gods of winds and hurricanes, in order to drive them out of these lands.
It has been claimed that the spheres are perfect, or very near perfect in roundness, although some spheres are known to vary by 5 centimetres (2.0 in) in diameter until 257 centimetres (104 in). Also the stones have been damaged and eroded over the years, and so it is impossible to know exactly their original shape. A review of the way that the stones were measured by Lothrop reveals that claims of precision are due to misinterpretations of the methods used in their measurement. Although Lothrop published tables of ball diameters with figures to three decimal places, these figures were actually averages of measurements taken with tapes that were nowhere near that precise.
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